Headlines tonight on the 11 o'clock Crime in the City!
Last Sunday, the Patron Saint of New York Broadway Comedy was brutally murdered by a group of yuppies who claim they are stress busters. What got busted actually was the true spirit of comedy as could be performed by some effortless fine acting. We take a look at this tonight. In the second part, after a couple of para breaks, we also take a look at how this was blown out of proportions as the most selfless act of cleansing the world of dirty aesthetic craft of underplaying Simple Simon's stage oevures! But first... let's listen to the cries of someone who craves audience.
Ladies and Gentlemen... *John Williams orchestra in the BGM, Lasers lightsabering themselves in a criss-cross through the auditorium, a faint glow of neon twin masks of tragi-comedy that represent theatre in the background cyclorama stretch of the wall...or plexiglass...or whatever material your budget allows*... please welcome on stage the child prodigy - Innocente Lost-on-the-Basics Dramatidis, the kid that's roving aimlessly in search of respectable theatre shows and politically sincere theatre reviews. By 'respectable' we don't mean shows where people are clothed for the most part on both sides of the stage; or by politically sincere we don't mean writers who tend to think discovering classics of literature for urban uninitiated audiences or artists who seek artistic expressions do not or cannot bring entertainment or bust stress or stress busts, whatever the case may be!
What we mean is shows that do not conjecture that audience are dumb and want only scripts that have "hahahaha" all over (or for most part), shows that take into consideration that entertainment can comprise of anything that is absorbing for the audience so much so to help them forget what they wanted to leave behind when they visit theatre; shows that has everything put together properly and not necessarily riding on the wave of packaging ability; shows that respects the intellectual honesty of the audience; shows that don't think audience can't recognise the difference in a comedy that results from the way the play demands to be performed as against the raping of acting to push the humour to tortuous levels so much so that acting is forced upon (and wow some of the unsuspecting audience into believing your show is full of stars who can act, even if as fakely as american television operas and sitcoms) and not happened upon; shows that discount those audience who may have foreknowledge of the play being performed.
Remember, when we parade the wares we get all type of buyers. Today may seem that those who know are negligible that we can live commercially off the unsuspecting nincompoops who fill the halls with their deodorant armpits and spaghetti strappers. But before long those with foreknowledge may grow in numbers and then it's time to ante-up! The meek shall inherit the earth says the world's largest perused literature!
Now, as promised earlier, albeit after one extra para: On to the politically sincere! Well... actually let's skip this bit. These are the opinion-shapers who like to par-tay and build an illusion that life exists only to support those who give you a good unhh unhh unhh and a complementary fresca at press cons! For whom anything as complex as Art Buchwald is heavy-weight material and anything that does not deal with romance or love or flirt or gender-war is useless in a society that is increasingly leaning towards moral depravity. Singing any song for supper, it is! No... no! Singing in support of those in vogue for supper, it is! *Sheepish grin* "Sorry... occupational hazard. Actually, I don't have an opinion... any opinion... because I have grown numb to taking stance and making strong choices in a proactive way!" Awrite, we sabe!
After few long paragraphs, KK still doesn't make sense. What the hell is he writing? Ah yes. We were supposed to ask Whither Theatre. Ok. Whither Theatre?
Some kids from Visual Communication took me on the can for a docu project they were doing this evening. The topic was "Youth in Theatre". The main question: More and more youth are coming to theatre now-a-days. Is it good or bad? Would you say this is a positive trend? What is your take on this?
Cool topic, eh! Trend it definitely is. Positive? Having watched theatre evolve through the 80s, 90s of the 20th c. and groups come and go through the period till about 6 months back when the latest company - ASAP Productions - came into existence, I feel like a quotidian. Let's take a look at the theatre companies - are dealing only with English Theatre here, Tamil is very healthy in its hate-hate politics (the best part about English Theatre in Chennai is that there are no amateur, commercial, mainstream, parallel, art divisions. Only English Theatre. Thank God for small mercies!) - in existence. The Madras Players, MTC Productions, Boardwalkers, Masquerade, Magic Lantern, Thespian En, Evam, Theatre Nisha, Stagefright Productions, ASAP Productions, JustUs Repertory, Sunshine Productions, Landing Stage Youth Theatre Group and some on and off clanish circles and associations... and a couple of them are brewing at the moment. Will take a while before they get known, but not too far. There were groups such as Theatre Arlequin, Asvameda, Stagecraft, etc, etc... which came and went. Some long, some brief. There were several groups that did one-off productions, hastily put together motley bunch of part-time partying lots who used theatre to have a nocturnal romp at the after-production cast-parties and dope and drink and mope around, but they don't deserve mention here. We are dealing with THEAAAATRRRRRRRRRE! So where does diversity of theatre groups leave us? Where does such a volume of youngsters who hang about rehearsals and do anything from front of house to backstage duties these days leave us?
Very precariously. Too many people are coming to do theatre or watch theatre these days. And how does theatre stand to profit from this? Oh, what profit shofit... make hay while sun shines. I hear you. Only, don't hatchet the count before he chickens, as my friend Freddy says! Yes, theatre is turning out into the proverbial golden goose. Crowds are coming, more people are showing interest as though if there were a financial possibility, they would make theatre their career. Why not? More people, more actors. More actors, more audience. More audience, more productions. More productions, more nights of performances. More performances, better business and financial associates/sponsors. Better Finance, better attention to other aspects of theatre... Hold the phone! Who said so? Better Finance, better PR and Packaging and higher greed. That does not underline the possibility of better quality of performance.
You see, sometimes money can be pure evil (I don't abide by the dictum "it's not money, but the love for it..." Without Love for anything, where is the question of something existing for its own sake?). The very presence of it. Whether one needs it or not. Love is an essential need. Materials are not. For some, things are there just to hoard. Money is one such thing. People like to hoard. We live in the Age of Avarice. We are lost in material transformation. We are losing aesthetic balance in life. We have lost the opportunity to ascend to a higher mental quality of life. And art is part of it.
Entertainment is one thing. Demeaning entertainment is another thing. Last weekend I saw a show. Everybody in theatre is aware what show we are talking about. There were no other shows. And this is a show I had done thrice in the past. Some people call it my 5 year penance. I produced it in 1994. 1999. 2004. I know the show so well like the length of my spine (let me break some cliches). And these people know I do. Why, one of the cast was part of my show. Now am not a megalomanic or self-important sonofabitch to say someone should consideration for my presence at a show. But the implication is this. When we parade something before a larger public, we should remember that there are those with knowledge, there are those in the cheapseats of mind. This show was played to an audience that wants a voyeuristic hardon giggling at someone throwing morsels of humour written by someone else, giving it a slant that it is theirs. I was horrified when someone I knew so well and who is intelligent and sharp came up to me and said beautifully written script, no? Did these guys write it? I was aghast. What intellectual misappropriation else can you do? Than giving an ambiguous opinion that we are the creators of art? We are merely performers of other's work. That would be the day when someone in Chennai can write a-la Herr Simon of the New York Broadway. And the acting was horrible to say the least. Overacting on the lines of Desperative Housewives by the female segundo, faked underplay of ballistic tendencies in the mould of the soap-opera heroines of The Bold and the Beautiful by the femme fatale of the play, thespian spills of the sort exhibited by Late Shivaji Ganesan in the horrible quadrupled chin days of the mid-80s tamil films of his by the male lead and a little better exhibition of hyperactivity than the Safari-suited Hindi film actors of the late 70s-early 80s period by the fourth and final member of the cast. Why pray does one not recognise the difference between one's physique clothed and shoulder-bare? Looking good clothed doesn't mean looking good bare. One must recognise one's physical as well as mental assets and liabilites. If one has narrow shoulders, one should avoid exhibiting them. If one has the guts to go all way to make contact bi-labials to bi-labials, one might as well french properly. Sucking the sides of oneself desperately inside while just making literal lip-service of resuscitation is no better an act than turning away from audience to fake a kiss. And putting on inflections or pushing the speed of delivery is not equivalent to pulling off humour.
Humour lies in timing and not bawling. Going on top of the speed-gun and showing haste is not the right way to projecting the hypersensitivity and hyperactivity of the character. Sorry, Leo! The list is long. This was one play that sucked every millimeter of its way. I don't even have sympathy for the audience that burst into 1000-walas of laughters every time they heard a laugh-cue. There is a fundamental difference between laughing at lines and laughing at humour through good acting. On Sunday night, it was the former. And those who did the laughing do not know this. Or perhaps do not realise this. Anyway, goes to show, if you throw peanuts you get only monkeys. If you throw packaging you get only phonies on the other side of over-hang lights.
I respect the right of people to survive or even get rich. But not at the cost of bringing down levels of excellence in the name of "This is what the audience want". It is we who should decide this is what the audience should have. Simple: Everyone knows what they don't want, but until they are exposed to, no one knows what they exactly want. So, while dishing out entertainment, let us also create discerning audience for the future. Else we may run out of gas on the home stretch, missing out the podium. Art is all about bringing a certain aesthetic enhancement to the experience. For that to happen, there has to be a conscious process by the provider. For which a certain dedication to the craft is required. Which requires processing the product for its intrinsic value and not for its external values. Hope it strikes home in a positive way.
*Dramatidis walks down the stairs, tears for fears*